Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Junior leaves early as team readies for a race that starts later

  • It may be bad news for Nextel Cup teams that Dale Earnhardt Jr. checked out early from testing. After driving the No. 8 Chevrolet on Monday and Tuesday, posting the fastest lap in drafting practice Tuesday afternoon, Earnhardt Jr. went home and Kerry Earnhardt worked through some things with the team on Wednesday. That would seem to indicate that Earnhardt Jr. is pretty happy with the car.
  • Some folks were surprised Wednesday when word got out that the Daytona 500 wiil start no earlier than 3:15 p.m. Eastern this year. Get used to it. Starting times haven’t been made official for Cup races yet, but 2 p.m. Eastern is the earliest tentative time for anything other than two races at Dover and the fall Martinsville race.
  • NASCAR will require drivers to use six-point safety harnesses this year. That means two straps holding the lower torso instead of the former five-point system that had a single belt coming between the drivers’ legs.
  • Mark Martin is scheduled to miss his first Nextel Cup race in 20 years when Regan Smith drivers the No. 01 Chevrolet at Bristol this year. “I think I will know what I want to do in the future by the end of that day,” Martin said Wednesday in a Sirius Satellite Radio interview. “My career is at a crossroads.” Martin is looking forward to his partial schedule this year. Martin said that after having three weekends off between Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving for two decades, he has 19 weekends off in 2007. “That puts it in perspective,” he said. Martin also will drive at least six Truck Series races for the Wood Brothers and, amazingly enough, at least two Busch races (Daytona and Texas) for Roush Racing, his former Cup team.
  • Tony Stewart is in Tulsa, Okla., for this weekend’s Chili Bowl, but his race team continues to click right along here. Mike McLaughlin is driving it and one of the No. 20 cars was fastest in Wednesday morning’s first session at 184.483. Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Green and Jimmie Johnson were next in the morning. Most teams ran in the draft in the second session. Even though NASCAR will allow teams a half-day on Thursday to make up for Monday afternoon’s rainout, several teams still decided to head home after Wednesday’s session. NASCAR also allowed teams to test a third car on Wednesday, beyond the two they were allowed to use Monday and Tuesday.
  • Trip Bruce will be crew chief for Johnny Benson on the No. 23 Toyotas in the Craftsman Truck Series this year. Rick Ren left the team to work on Ron Hornaday’s trucks at Kevin Harvick Inc. Benson finished second in last year’s Truck Series standings. Bruce has been at Evernham Motorsports since 2005.
  • Gary DeHart has been hired as director of shop operations for Ginn Racing. DeHart has spent nearly 20 years at Hendrick Motorsports, where he was crew chief for Terry Labonte in his 1996 championship season. Since Bobby Ginn bought the team formerly known as MB2, it has nearly doubled from 85 to 160 employees.


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